At first thought, embedded design teams might not think of Intel® Architecture (IA) processors as a match for rugged environments and extended-temperature operation. But Intel does support such applications with processors that are offered in the embedded program. Moreover board and module vendors offer the IA processors in a variety of rugged commercial-off-the-shelf platforms. Design teams can choose from ruggedized extensible modular form factors and miniature single-board computers. Moreover, the ruggedized ecosystem includes the latest in IA technology such as the Intel® Atom™ E6XX series that offers the highest level of integration and lowest-system power in the IA family.
There is a tremendous advantage in any application to turn to an IA processor. No other architecture enjoys the same broad support in terms of software and development tools. Moreover, no other architecture is fueled by a high-volume ecosystem that continually delivers best-in-class performance and low power while leveraging the production volume of the PC, server, and notebook segments to meet the cost requirements of a broad range of embedded applications.
Today, let’s discuss two extremes in terms of the type of platforms that might be useful in rugged or extended temperature applications. First we will consider the CompactPCI platform that takes a modular approach and has found broad usage in applications including industrial, aerospace, and military. Then we will examine the rich functionality available in miniature single-board computers (SBCs).
The CompactPCI standard is promulgated by the PICMG consortium that collaboratively develops open specifications for high-performance computing applications. The standard relies on the Eurocard format for 3U and 6U modular board that are 5.25 and 10.5 inches high. PICMG continually enhances technologies such as CompactPCI – for instance adding support for serial interfaces over the backplane with the CompactPCI PlusIO specification.
General Electric (GE) Intelligent Platforms* is one of many companies that support the Compact PCI standard, and that offers products that are optimized for reliability in rugged environments. Moreover, the company already offers a new product – the ACR301-- that is based on the Atom E6XX processor.
The E6XX processor integrates a graphics controller and a memory controller on chip. Moreover the processor chip and Intel® Platform Controller Hub EG20T companion IC offers incredible I/O support. If you want to read more about the new IA platform you might peruse these other recent Roving Reporter posts by Henry Davis and Kenton Williston.
GE notes the importance of high levels of integration in applications such as unmanned vehicles where space is at a premium. “While the very highest performance is still a requirement for many demanding embedded applications, this is increasingly being tempered by the need to deliver that performance in applications such as unmanned vehicles, where space, weight, power availability and the ability to dissipate heat are often highly constrained,” said Rob McKeel, General Manager, Military & Aerospace Embedded Computing at GE Intelligent Platforms. “The ACR301 is among the very first solutions to use Intel’s latest Atom processor to specifically address those requirements, and can make a vital contribution to our customers’ ability to attain sustainable competitive advantage.”
GE offers the ACR301 and other products in five levels of ruggedization. The levels address extended temperatures in the -40° to +85° range, a range of cooling options, and options that address vibration and shock. If you want more details see the Systems Ruggedization web page on the GE site.
At the other end of the spectrum, consider the Catalyst TC SBC from Eurotech**. The SBC is designed for fan-less operation and measures 67x100 mm. But the high level of integration in the E6XX design results in an SBC that is still able to handle HD video decoding and output. Eurotech is targeting applications including industrial, automotive, infotainment, and military with the SBC.
The compact design includes a rich set of I/O capabilities including SATA, Gigabit Ethernet, and CAN interfaces. Embedded teams can use operating systems ranging from Windows to Wind River*** Linux with the product.
The Eurotech SCB is available in an extended temperature version that includes the -40° to +85° range favored for military and industrial applications. Eurotech offers the board with as much as 2 Gbytes of DDR2 memory. Moreover design teams can add functionality via PCI Express (PCIe) and SD-card interfaces.
Please share you experience with rugged environments via comments. Have you developed rugged systems with modular platforms such as CompactPCI? What challenges did you face? And what are the limitations or advantages you’ve experienced with the SBC approach? Fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community would appreciate your input.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)
Intel® Embedded Alliance
* General Electric Intelligent Platforms is an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance
** Eurotech is an Associate Member of the Alliance
*** Wind River is an Associate Member of the Alliance